My next chapter: Why I joined ArizonaSports.com
Spend 20 years in Arizona, and you learn some things. Respect for the midday sun. Fear of the scorpion’s tail. Deep appreciation for sunsets, cilantro and the perfect salsa.
But how do you say hello when you haven’t left?
After a newspaper career spanning four decades, I’m confronted with this strange and exhilarating proposition. My column will no longer land on driveways, repurposed to wrap fish or line birdcages. It now appears exclusively at ArizonaSports.com, liberated from print deadlines, paywalls and pop-up ads. The content won’t change, nor will my mission. But the significance of this move is highly personal.
I fell in love with newspapers at an early age, marveling at how words could inspire, infuriate and elevate the soul. The greatest gift my father ever bestowed on his youngest son was the armful of papers he brought home every evening, tucked under his arm as he trudged home from the train station.
I gorged on the words of great columnists, inhaling the pungent smell of cold newsprint. I was intoxicated by the power of truth and truth spoken to power, how a single voice could galvanize an entire community. For an impressionable mind growing up on the South Side of Chicago, the alphabet was like notes to a musician, limited in quantity but loaded with infinite possibilities.
I was hooked. And with that context, you can only imagine what it felt like to end up courtside at the old Chicago Stadium, chronicling Michael Jordan’s nightly dalliance with greatness, jumping in my Toyota Tercel and swinging by the Chicago Sun-Times well after midnight.
I’d pick up an armful of papers, just like my father once did. Except these were hot off the press and warm to the touch. I’d deliver them to an Irish tavern down the street, where sports fans would raise a glass and marvel at early access to tomorrow’s edition.
They poured over those newspapers with reverence and awe, as if they were artifacts from the moon. Like they had access to a time machine.
It was the Golden Age of journalism, and it didn’t last long.
The world has changed significantly, as it always does. Newspapers are dying. Media members are no longer hailed as watchdogs, role models and pillars of democracy. The business has been marginalized by too many voices and political agendas, no longer considered a noble profession. The industry has become just like the NBA, where the best players don’t flourish on talent alone. They understand the importance of joining the right team.
And that’s why I’m here.
Change is never easy, and rarely without risk. Once, I turned down an offer to work for the New York Times, apprehensive about spending my working hours in New Jersey while covering the Nets. I left the Sun-Times to become a syndicated voice for the Copley News Service, jumping off the cliff just to establish my voice and credentials as an aspiring columnist. And when I moved to the desert in 1998, joining The Arizona Republic as the brash loudmouth from Chicago, I was immediately encountered with a queasy moment of self-doubt.
It’s easy to take a great sports town for granted. I was raised in a world where allegiance to local teams was an obligation, not a choice. I grew up in Wrigley Field, where gullible fans valued loyalty over victory, embracing their image as lovable losers. I watched wretched football from the last row in Soldier Field, braving frigid temperatures and biting into hot dogs that broke apart like popsicles.
I innately understood the communal value of sports, how teams could link generations, unifying a city in success and disappointment. I assumed it must be the same everywhere.
Many years later, when dispatched to cover my first Cardinals game at Sun Devil Stadium, I gazed in horror at an empty stadium that seemed full of contempt and apathy. And I heard a disturbing voice rattling through my head:
What have I done with my career?
I don’t feel that way now. Anything but. I am blessed with bold leadership, great teammates, a great radio partner and a new platform perfectly suited for my next chapter.
Welcome to my new home. Make yourself comfortable. The view is amazing.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.